In December 2011, when I was in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, multiple murders occurred on an almost daily basis as sicarios—assassins—“heated up the plaza,” the term used when one rival crime group enters another’s turf, killing and causing havoc. But, as I drive through Juarez in July 2012 it’s hard to imagine the past slaughter. There are signs that things are turning around with new businesses opening.
Although much has been reported on Juarez, the history of what happened there can’t be fully understood without visiting the State of Sinaloa on Mexico's West Coast, which is the cradle of much of the narco-trafficking in Mexico. The cities and municipalities of Navolato, Culiacan and Badiraguato are the birthplaces of many key organized crime figures—some living, some dead, some in jail. Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman Loera aka “Chapo,” Amado Carrillo Fuentes aka “Lord of the Skies,” Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo aka “El Padrino,” and Ismael Zambada Garcia aka “El Mayo” have been among some of the principal actors in the drug underworld. They all hail from Sinaloa and helped create the main cartels that have fought for or formed alliances with each other for control of Juarez.
When people speak of the city of Juarez, they don’t always take into consideration the greater geographic region, which includes the Juarez Valley populated by small communities to the east of the city. What makes this a key smuggling area is that the I-10 highway runs parallel and very close to the border for many miles. No other section of the Mexican border has a major U.S. highway running so close and for that long of a distance adjacent to Mexico, making the greater Juarez region the most valuable smuggling section of the border and one that has always been so contested.
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